Nova Scotia

Tourist visiting Cape Breton frustrated by lack of RV propane stations

A couple travelling Cape Breton in a camper van is frustrated by a lack of propane fill-up options and wants to warn others about the problem.

'We struck out on 4 different attempts,' says Alison Steele

Alison Steele and Lawrence Baitland travelled from Texas to Cape Breton in their camper van. (Bob Steele)

A couple travelling Cape Breton in a camper van is frustrated by a lack of RV propane stations and wants to warn others about the problem.

"Most of us take one vacation a year and you don't want anything like this to foul it up," said Alison Steele.

She's originally from Cape Breton, but has lived in the U.S. for the last 30 years. She and her husband, Lawrence Baitland, travelled from Texas for the trip.

'Struck out on 4 different attempts'

Last weekend, they went looking for propane.

"We weren't so foolish as to base all of our needs on Ingonish or Cheticamp being open. We tried to get the propane first in Sydney," said Steele. "The Irving on George Street said they were out of service and the Canadian Tire in Sydney was also out, so we struck out on four different attempts."

Steele said they use propane not only as fuel to get from place to place, but also as a means to keep a fridge and stove running.

Fridge and cooking problems

"If you're travelling six to eight hours a day, you can't turn your refrigerator off," said Steele. "Most of the stoves are propane, so if you run out, you can't cook your food the way you intended. So, you may lose your refrigerator and even if you don't, you can't cook the food anyway."

Steele said the scarcity of propane changed their plans somewhat. She said they didn't travel around the island as much and instead spent more time with family she still has in Cape Breton.

Travelling without a fridge or stove wasn't an option for the couple.

"That kinda defeats the whole purpose of having a RV or camper van," said Steele.

Weekends are even harder to get propane

Bruce Marsh is with Cape Breton Trailer Sales and has been in the business for 28 years. He confirms Steele's worries about the dwindling number of places offering propane fill-ups for RVs. Marsh says the weekend is a particular challenge.

"There's not many locations that do it anymore and you have to have trained techs that will fill them. So, if it's on a weekend or in the evening, most techs are gone home by 5 o'clock," he said. "On Saturday and Sunday, probably not that many places that will do it."

Marsh said it comes down to economics and estimates it would cost a business $15,000 to install a propane filling station for motorhomes or camper vans, which makes it difficult to earn the money back quickly.

Potential impact on tourism industry

He said it's tough to find propane stations for these vehicles across the country, even in cities like Halifax and Moncton.

"You'll still only find two or three places in the city that will do that, but it's to find those two or three places that will do it [that] is the problem," said Marsh.

Steele says the lack of propane options could be damaging to Nova Scotia's tourism industry.

"The word is going to get around that it's almost impossible to get propane for an RV in the province of Nova Scotia and eventually if that isn't rectified, Nova Scotia will see an impact in tourism if people can't bring their RVs here and reliably get propane service," she said.

About the Author

From people around the corner to those around the world, Norma Jean MacPhee has more than a decade of experience telling their stories on the radio, TV and online. Reach Norma Jean at norma.jean.macphee@cbc.ca